Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: February 3

Batgirl #48 (DC Comics) At this point, I don't even care what that DC "#rebirth" business is all about. As long as DC keeps publishing a Babs Tarr-drawn Batgirl monthly for $3 an issue, I'm good.

This issue features the return of Black Canary to the title after months of having her own, rather confusing adventures in the pages of her own book. I love the way Tarr draws Black Canary–in-costume, in street clothes, in action, her expressions–but then, I love the way Tarr draws everything.

Also, for the second issue in a row, Batgirl features Frankie acting in an Oracle role while Batgirl and a gal pal go on a mission. I'm reeeeaaaaallllly getting my hopes up for a new Birds of Prey series by this writing team, featuring Frankie, Batgirl, Black Canary, Spoiler, Bluebird and maybe even Black Bat, eventually. And as much as I wish Babs Tarr could draw it as well as Batgirl, I'd also be fine if she just provided the covers.

Ooh, in this issue Babs has even leased an old firehouse to serve as HQ for her new tech start-up! That could totally be a front for a new Birds of Prey base of operations!

That, or Babs, Dinah, Frankie and Stephanie are going to be the new female Ghostbusters...?

Batman & Robin Eternal #18 (DC) This issue explains the bombshell that David "The Orphan" Cain dropped on Harper Row last issue, in great detail. Cassandra Cain is the person who murdered Harper's mom. And why? Because Mother ordered the Rows killed to traumatize young Harper so that she could become the next Robin, replacing Dick Grayson. Remember, Batman had put in an order for a perfect child soldier to replace Robin, but it was only part of his attempt to get close enough to Mother to shut her organization down.

I'm not sure if I like this turn of events, as it essentially means that Batman knew about the half-orphaned Harper and Cullen for about three or four years before Harper expressed any interest in becoming a vigilante, and apparently his guilt over his role in the death of her mother kept him away rather than drew him to her, which doesn't sound quite right.

The larger problem is I don't understand how the timing of this works out, as Dick and Jason Todd, who was Batman's second Robin instead of Harper, are both adults, and significantly older than Harper and Tim. Shouldn't Harper be older, then? Like, Jason's age? Or did Mother's method of child soldier-creating take several years to complete? And, if that is the case, Harper would still be training, wouldn't she? Because all of this only happened a few years ago?

The goddam 5-6-year-timeline doesn't make a lick of sense when applied to the Batman stories, and yet this particular story arc kind of hinges on Batman's sidekicks (And remember, Batman went through four Robins between the end of "Zero Year" and Batman #1 and Detective #1, which were set well over a year ago. I'm pretty sure Damian Wayne is the longest-serving Robin at this point, and Dick and Jason were somehow artificially aged off-panel.

Series plotters James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder probably shoulda worked out a timeline to go with their outline for this story, before charging ahead with it. This issue's script is by Ed Brisson, while Scott Eaton pencil and Wayne Faucher inks. It recovers some of the same territory as last issue, and once again Eaton and Faucher do a pretty decent job with the art. At least until the last few pages, where it suddenly gets pretty terrible for no reason.

What's even going on with Dick's face here?

Paper Girls #5 (Image Comics) I still enjoy reading this as it's published in its comics form, but I think maybe I'd rather write about it after reading it in its final, collected form. After all, I don't have anything to say about this issue that I didn't have to say about the last three: A bunch of weird shit happens, there are pterosaurs and Cliff Chiang draws the fuck out of it.

Providence #7 (Avatar Press) Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows' trippy tour of H.P. Lovecraft's body of work continues with this issue focusing on "Pickman's Model," in which our poor hero Robert Black somehow manages his research into the religion at the core of Moore's version of Lovecraft's "universe" (without ever taking any goddam notes!), which seems like quite a feat given the fucked-up shit he went through last issue (when he's found wandering the streets of Boston during a riot, the friendly policeman who takes him to the Pickman analogue notes that he seems shell-shocked).

I'm probably going to need this series to end and be collected, then re-read all of Lovecraft, and then re-read Providence in trade format before I can talk intelligently about what exactly Moore's doing and how well he's doing it. But, taken in this issue at least, I think he has the two principal characters make a great deal of sense out of some of the underlying themes of Lovecraft's horror, and in tying it to the times in which it was written.

There is a really rather bravura six-page sequence in this issue that I found simply astounding. Pitman allows Black to interview one of the "Saprivores" of his paintings by taking him into the basement and having him face a wall, forbidding him to turn around. And then Pitman leads a monster in, sits down next to it, and it answers Black's questions in a particular cadence that is even more striking than the "monster font" that letterer Kurt Hathaway gives "King George," as the monster is called.

Each of these pages is broken into four horizontal panels, and the POV never shifts; if this were a film, it would have been a continuous shot from a camera on a tripod, set right in front of Black, so that the reader can see the monster that Black can't–Black is operating under the belief that this is all some sort of "mesmerism"–but because it's not a film, both Black's face and the monster he can only imagine are visible to the reader and equally in focus the entire time.

It's basic, but amazing comics-making, and King George's philosophy a rather powerful one.

Moore and Burrows get a bit meta at the end, using a twist from the story–that Pickman's paintings of monsters are made from photographs of real models, rather than fantastical creatures conjured from his own imagination–in a way that honors the fact that this, being a comic book instead of prose, is all art.

Providence is one hell of a dense comic but this issue certainly a particularly strong example of just how good a comic it is, whether you get each and every reference or not (and I'm certain I don't; I haven't read any Lovecraft in years).

Swamp Thing #2 (DC) I often have a difficult time reviewing comics that Kelley Jones has drawn, as my impulse is always to simply scan panel after panel or scene after scene and say, "Look! Look how awesome this is!" Here that awesomeness mainly pertains to Swamp Thing's particularly strange comings and goings, as Jones shows him transforming from a weird sprout with an eyeball or tiny face and then swelling up into the green ape shape in a matter of seconds, in the space between panels.
(His best exist may be the one where he accidentally drops something, and then his arm re-sprouts to pick up and leave with it again).
This miniseries' charms are, of course, peculiar, but I am it's exact target audience. It opens with a prose-heavy splash page in which Len Wein writes in second-person point-of-view musing about the nature of time that is so over-the-top I can't tell if he's even serious or not, while Jones' art shows the two, torn apart pieces of Swamp Thing's bisected torso, looking like two halves of humanoid smashed and rotting Halloween pumpkin.

Wein switches back and fort from his own narration to Swamp Thing's own first-person narration, which oddly contains all of the ellipses of Swamp Thing's speech pattern. Does Swampy think and slow as he speaks? Or is Wein just putting the sorts of dialogue he would have put in thought bubbles a few decades ago into narration boxes, as that's the norm these days?

The story concludes Swamp Things battle with the zombie Lazlo Womrwood, after our hero first learns that there's more to the monster's origin than he was originally lead to believe, as well as how to stop him, by an incredibly unlikely guest-star: The Shade. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this may be the first appearance of The Shade in the post-Flashpoint New 52 continuity; the 2011, 12-issue The Shade miniseries that James Robinson wrote seemed to have been set in the previous continuity, with only a few cosmetic nods to the then-new New 52 continuity.

As he's only present to provide some supernatural know-how, I imagine his presence here had more to do with Jones wanting to draw him than anything else.

Also of interest is the introduction of a new character with ties to the world of Batman, Sheriff Darcy Fox (niece of one Lucius Fox), a reappearance of the Phantom Stranger to wax cryptic and a very unexpected last-panel character who, last time I saw him, was a raven rather than a human but, again, I'm not up on the post-Vertigo Swamp Thing so maybe that character has already been de-Ravened and returned to the DCU.

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